It is, we all suspected from the start, now abundantly clear that the United States Central Intelligence Agency committed acts of torture following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan that killed some 3000 innocent Americans. Listening to George Tenet, then Director of the CIA explain it to Scott Pelley of CBS' 60 Minutes, shortly after the 9/11 attack, one gets the distinct impression that Tenet's decisions, at least those on which he signed off, were taken amid a flood of rumours about nuclear weapons about to be unleashed in New York, about terrorists hidden throughout the city, and inside a theatre of chaos and fear that obviously engulfed both the agency and the nation, immediately following the onslaught of jet liners morphed into bombs, on a scale never before witnessed, and certainly never witnessed on American soil.
Whether President Obama is completely accurate in his concession that 'when America makes mistakes, we own up to them' is becoming a little suspect, given statements like the one from the Polish leader who granted the Americans permission to conduct interrogation on Polish soil, without knowing the full extent of what would take place, including the torture that everyone knows contravenes international law and the laws of war, even if the U.S. considered itself to be under attack, and thereby engaged in a war. Torture, in itself, is reprehensible, but failing to inform your host, chosen to keep the information away from the American press and people, of what you are about to do, is even more reprehensible.
Reports that the CIA agents were "making it up" as they went along in their pursuit of the finer details of the degree of danger faced by the United States and its people, people whom the CIA is charged with "protecting" also compound the initial report from the U.S. Senate, much of which has been rebutted by the current Director of the CIA, John Brennan. Not only will the actions of some of its agents generate more recruits for the ISIS terror movement; those actions will also bring into question the relationship between the U.S. and its allies in the gobal effort to stamp out Islamic terrorism, and the dangers it now poses for the world, especially countries like the United States and her allies, including Great Britain.
An insightful piece in The Guardian yesterday, opens the door to questions of collusion between Great Britain and the United States in the process of "acquiring intelligence" for the purpose of protecting the United States and her allies from further harm. Here is a brief quote from that piece, by
Injustice that is not fully exposed cannot be properly challenged; and when injustice is not properly challenged, it is doomed to repeat itself. That is why Britain’s full complicity in the CIA’s systematic torture of prisoners must not be allowed to remain a state secret. The extent of the catastrophe of the so-called “war on terror” launched 13 years ago is becoming ever clearer: invasions that have proved disasters in terms of lives lost and treasure wasted; torture and other endemic human rights abuses; attacks on civil liberties; and jihadism more powerful and violent than ever. How can a catastrophe on such a scale have ended with a total failure to hold those responsible to account?
Those hoping for truth here so far have little grounds for optimism: not only has Britain’s role been redacted from the Senate intelligence committee report, but also the parliamentary intelligence and security committee’s proposed inquiry already looks like a whitewash in the making. A source from the committee has been quoted arguing that “our role is to hold the intelligence services to account, not politicians”. This is an alarming logic. In a democracy, the buck must surely stop with elected politicians. Do our secret services have democratic oversight or not? It would be a travesty if the likes of Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Miliband were not fully and openly questioned about what exactly they knew. (Britain’s complicity in CIA torture is a crime that will only create more jihadis, by Owen Jones, The Guardian, December 11, 2014)
If Mr. Jones is seeking the justice that can only come from the open and full questioning of people like Tony Blair and Jack Straw (then Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Blair government), as he no doubt is, premised on his opening statement that injustice not fully exposed cannot be properly challenged, then why is no one in the United States calling for the open and comprehensive and under oath questioning of people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who has called the Senate report "hooey"....to put it mildly?
If the CIA itself did not fully disclose all of the activities it conducted, including the most heinous and criminal of its actions, to the Bush administration, then that piece of information needs to be fully disclosed. If it did disclose everything to the elected officials of government and those officials sanctioned and signed off on that disclosure, then that piece of information needs to be fully disclosed.
Of course, there is a danger to national security, from the process that would be involved in full disclosure. That is the precise reason behind the request from Great Britain, and presumably other countries, that their participation in the interrogation process that crossed all legitimate lines be redacted from all public reports. However, hiding behind redactions, for the purpose of saving the lives of individual "secret agents" is a far different motive than hiding behind redactions that are really an attempt to protect public officials from their rightful responsibility in a healthy democracy. Also the methods used to pry information loose from reluctant witnesses is far different from the details of the information so gathered. The details of the methods, it would seem, ought to be subject to public disclosure and public scrutiny, and potentially public censure and sanction.
Of course, what I am saying is open to legitimate public debate, but the public has a right to know how national security is being compromised by the decisions and the actions of its elected and appointed officials.
And, while national security depends on the diligent and relentless acquisition of secret information from sources that most people would consider "unsavoury" to put it mildly, the trust and respect in which the agencies gathering that information depend is linked intimately to the public officials elected and/or appointed in a fully functioning healthy democracy. When the work of any public body reaches beyond the purview of public scrutiny, especially as to the methods employed to compel witnesses to disclose information, if not the specific nature of the information gathered, then democracy has failed both the agencies charged with gathering the information and the electorate whose votes are still the sine qua non of the democracy that undergirds all government actions.
In totalitarian countries, the gathering of intelligence is not bound to or respective of the need for public disclosure, public scrutiny, public accountability and public censure if and when needed.
Increasingly, obfuscation, including the deliberate hiding behind that infamous phrase, "the fog of war," double-talk, shouted talking points that diffuse the potentially contentious situation for public officials has become the service offered by professional public relations private companies which have signed lucrative contracts with political parties, individual politicians and even governments and government agencies.
And the risk, in addition to the serious risk to international respect and moral authority of nations engaged in the murky and slimy business of intelligence gathering and the erosion of trust of the international community from countries that have been deceived in their participation in such programs, is that democracy itself is eroded. The public loses trust and confidence that the public officials, both elected and appointed, and the agencies they work for and lead. And when that occurs, as it has certainly happened in the case of the CIA use of torture (demonstrating a manifest level of fear in the leaders of those organizations and the governments to which they report) there is a need to disclose not only the specific acts of torture that were used, but also the other governments and government officials who were either lied to or deliberately deceived in order to conduct the torture in the first place.
As the assaying goes, it is not the crime itself that is wrong; it is the cover-up of the crime that makes the offence even more heinous.
Obama risks his own credibility by endorsing a report that is both selective and prosecutorial in its approach and fails to public acknowledge the specific countries who were misled or lied to in order to acquire the facilities where torture could take place, in order to accomplish an even more epic cover-up from the American people.
When the leadership of any organization is frightened to the degree that Tenet and his agency appear to have been and perhaps the whole administration as well, then the terrorists have inflicted more damage than that inflicted by the four jetliners that morphed into bombs on that fatal day in September, 2001. And the moral wounds to the reputation of the United States for that incarnation of fear in policy and actions will be far more difficult to eradicate than all the grief experienced by the many families and friends of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
When fear of that magnitude seeps into the crevices of the unconscious of both the national leaders and the fabric of the nation, it is always virtually impossible to wash its traces away. And the implications of that fear could be echoing in the halls of government as well as the streets of the nation for decades, both in its overt impulse and in the over-compensation that it generates as part of the denial of its impact.